After 29 years of staging its championship round in a 2-3-2 format of home/road games, the NBA is considering a return to the 2-2-1-1-1 system used for The Finals prior to 1985 and still used for all earlier playoff rounds.
The league’s competition committee voted to recommend the switch to the Board of Governors, which is expected to approve the move at its meetings Oct. 22-23. Still to be determined: whether the change would take effect for The Finals this June or wait till 2015. The committee’s recommendation was first reported by the Boston Herald Sunday.
“The idea was raised at the competition committee and was well-received,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Sunday, “and the committee ultimately unanimously voted to recommend the change in format.”
The 2-3-2 format was adopted for the championship round in 1985, after three consecutive Finals – and nine in a span of 10 years – had played across three time zones. Six of those nine had gone at least to Game 6, requiring additional coast-to-coast travel at a time when even the teams flew commercially.
A relatively new commissioner (David Stern began his term on Feb. 1, 1984) was aware of the demands on demands on players, coaches and staff. Stern also was keen to marketing issues, and the increased expense to newspapers and other traditional media in booking extra flights. Now NBA teams travel via charter flights. Many traditional news outlets no longer cover The Finals, a nod to their own industry’s economic woes rather than travel costs.
Also, the 2-3-2 format has its own issues. First, it veers dramatically from the staging of home/road games used in the earlier rounds. Second, the higher-seeded team, which begins The Finals at home, has what some have considered a homecourt disadvantage through five games.
Through the years, many have debated the psychological edges and pressures facing both clubs. Is it tougher for the higher-seeded team to know that, if it loses Game 1 or 2, the series might not return to its city? Or does the lower-seeded team face a greater burden at home, considering how difficult it is to beat a Finals opponent three straight times?
A reversion to 2-2-1-1-1 at least would make the format consistent with the earlier rounds, seemingly a more legitimate way to determine a champion. For the record, since 1985 the teams with Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at home (if needed) have won 21 of the 29 Finals (.724) in the 2-3-2 format. In the 38 NBA/BAA championships through 1984 (including some played with alternating home games or even 2-3-2 in the 1950s), the higher-seeded teams went 26-12 (.684).